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Post pandemic paradigm: The future is staggering

Kiss the 9 to 5 world and the remnants of agrarian-based school schedules good-bye.

The need to deal with the vaccine-less COVID-19 pandemic is steering us toward the potential promise of 21st century technology and lifestyles.

Given that social distancing is the foundation of how we must cope with COVID-19 venues such as schools, restaurants, barbershops, and stores need to operate at reduced capacity. That means if a beauty salon before the pandemic was at full capacity with an 8 hour business day in order to service the same-sized clientele they’d theoretically need to be open 16 hours a day.

The need to extend hours will be a must if stylists want to return to pre-pandemic income levels and owners can retrieve enough for overhead and squeeze out a profit. Staying open longer with staggered shifts will mean some increase in costs such as electricity. That said the uptick in cost would be minuscule compared to losing half of your businesses.

It also means businesses would instantly have built in capacity once pandemic protocols are lifted.

Staggering stylist shifts and extending hours would only work if clients were on similar tracks. It makes no sense to have a styling shop open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. if the bulk of the  rest of the world functions on a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule.

This is where schools enter into the picture.

It is clear the only way you can have in-person teaching and maintain basic social distancing protocols is to reduce classroom capacity by 50 percent.

That would mean an education model where a class of 30 students would be split in half. Fifteen would be in a classroom setting at any given time and the other 15 would be distance learning either at home or in another setting where they are supervised but without one-on-one teaching.

There’s two ways to go about the basic framework. One of is to keep the current school hours and simply half it. That means is school runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. it would likely be split into two sessions — 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 to 4 p.m. That would allow an hour for lunch and switching between the two sessions. It also is a nod to the fact schools can ill afford to high additional teachers to lower the ratio.

The other would be keeping the same schedule and rotating students out. It could mean 15 students are in-class for a week while the other 15 are distance learning and then flipping it the next week. There are various forms of that including alternating every other day. Other variations, though, would significantly increase logistics issues for teachers, parents during schools.

Most educators are leaning toward whatever they start the next school year with will remain in place for the entire school year. It is the least disruptive approach by far when it comes to learning, logistics, and continuity for the students and teachers as well as parents.

Given that the pandemic is not a one shot wonder and will likely take several years once an acceptable vaccine is developed to get the immunization numbers at an acceptable rate, schools won’t likely be able to return to what was the pre-pandemic normal for two years if not longer.

It is why education might be better served if whatever solution is put in place has the ability to become the new norm.

The staggering solution that is selected could easily address classroom space needs either for growth or an effort to reduce student-teacher ratios going forward. Such a reduction based on lowering the ratio could see staggered sessions kept in place while half the students are in classrooms with 15 students to a teacher and the other half are in active learning based “study halls” with an education aide. Think of an approach that mirrors Give Every Child a Chance and similar after school programs.

In such a format an 800-member student body would be split in half. The early staggered session could go from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the second staggered session from 2 to 7 p.m. To accommodate growth, every time you needed to add 15 students at a grade level you would take over a class used by a study hall group for the day, hire and additional teacher, and disperse those 15 students to other study hall classrooms. The instructional aides would then be floated.

Ultimately such a system would have the added cost of instructional aides but the need of investing in more classrooms and related infrastructure is drastically reduced.

If the work world from retail to tech to offices to manufacturing is flattened out as well by taking a staggering approach and extending hours, you will create household or family situations where not only two staggered school tracks would work but so would the economy.

The benefits are endless. It would increase business capacity in most cases without needing to add infrastructure. It would allow business to make more effective use of infrastructure it does have in place to reduce per unit or volume costs. It would flatten commute traffic. It also would spread out demand throughout the day instead of two distinct peaks — the morning commute and start of school as well as the afternoon commute and end of school.

It would reduce the need to widen freeways. It would reduce commute times caused by congestion. And given stop and go travel as well as idling are responsible for the biggest source of air quality issues caused by automobiles it will help reduce pollution.

Matching household schedules to the staggered school approach is not a daunting task given technology.

Once large scale employers either stretch out the work day or have more staff work from home and a staggered school system is in place, the retail-dining and service industries will have this customer base more spread out where it would pay to open earlier and close later.

Pandemics stretching back to the 15th century have been credited with triggering seismic economic and societal shifts.

That is why it makes sense to work through this not simply with our eyes wide open, the understanding much of what passed as normal will actually become history, but also  that we can’t simply suspend civilization until we reach an acceptable level of COVID-19 carnage. If we can do that and work on implementing solutions that not only get us through the pandemic but will be able to address a whole list of societal and economic concerns going forward we will be better off.

Our goal should not be simply to survive the pandemic.

It should be to survive it and come out thriving.